I love technology and especially irrigation technology. When I first heard about Rachio, I was intrigued but wasn’t quite sold because I thought it was a bit pricey. Who needs a $250 controller especially when your good ol’ $50 one is doing just fine. In my case, I needed two so I wasn’t ready to shell out $500 for fancy new gadgets. I held out as long as I could until the curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give Rachio a try.
I installed two Rachio generation 2 controllers on 3/19/17. After a month of testing, I think they have skipped watering my lawn just as much as they have watered it. And that’s a good thing.
Let me explain. In California for the last five years we have been in a severe drought. So it’s great to save water when you can. But this year the rains have come back with a vengeance. Like tropical paradise kind of rainfall.
It was sunny and warm when I installed the two Rachio controllers. The very next day Rachio sent me an alert that told me it was going to skip watering due to predicted rainfall. My old controllers would have duplicated what Mother Nature was already going to take care of. To date, I have literally saved twice as much water as I have used.
At first I was hesitant to install these controllers because of the cost and also due to some of the features, or more precisely lack thereof. Like an easy way to control the programming on the face of the controller. No knobs or switches to fiddle with like every other controller that I had programmed over the last twenty years. I’m kind of old school but I love new tech and so I went for it. All programming is done from the phone app and after setting it up I can understand why.
Setup was easy and intuitive and the app walks you through it. You setup each zone individually selecting the type of vegetation to be watered, the type of soil, the slope of the land that it will be watering as well as amount of sun exposure and type of nozzle doing the watering.
These are important factors when considering the amount of time to water. A dense clay soil at a slope will produce a lot of runoff if it was programmed for the same settings as a flat sandy soiled area. And a shaded lawn will need less water than one exposed to full sun. My back yard is living proof of that.
Picture of my [dream] backyard
This might sound overwhelming but don’t worry if you accidentally get a setting wrong or want to change it later. Everything is easy to change in the app after the initial setup is complete. During setup the controller will operate the valve on the station you are programming so you know exactly what will be watering and you can do the initial programming for that zone.
The choices in the app do a good job of covering the bases of what you will encounter in your yard but if you want to get fancy and add a custom nozzle there is an option for that. I like the capability to call your zones anything you want. I called mine what they were watering but you can get as fancy as you want. Go crazy with it, I won’t judge. You can even take a picture of the area that zone will water for an easy visual reference. If you are not using all the stations on the controller, you can disable them so they don’t need to programmed and won’t water. You can re-enable them in the app if you need more stations later.
Why Two Rachio Controllers?
Like most controllers, the Rachio allows you to have up to 16 zones. I have to water 7 acres including landscaping around a couple of buildings so I need more zones. I installed an 8 station and a 16 station Rachio controller to cover all the watering zones.
When you have more than one controller (dual or multi controller setup), things can get messy. You often get blown controllers because they interfere with each other by being “interconnected”, causing what is called in the industry “back feeding” and “phasing” issues.
The easiest way to protect the controllers in a dual or multi controller setup is to install an Isolator on each. As the name suggests, Isolator keeps the controllers separated and free from controller feuds.
One thing to note about installing two Rachio controllers is that neither controller knows about the other one so take this into consideration when programming the watering schedules.
What I did was have each controller water on different days. The actual watering times for each program can vary based on Rachios calculations of what your landscape needs. It’ll also adjust for seasonal weather changes. The total watering time on one controller was increased by almost 20 minutes from the previous month due to a seasonal shift.
If I had the second controller scheduled to water at the end of the first controllers cycle it may start to overlap as the controllers automatically adjust watering times. Again, you can see all of this in the app or you can even turn off the seasonal adjust if you don’t need it but I like to save all the water I can so I left this enabled.
Hands Off Operation
After the initial setup, the controller will take care of the rest. It links to one of your local weather stations to predict rainfall and will calculate when to water. So far it has done a good job and accurately predicted the amounts of precipitation in comparison to the amounts it would have been programmed to water and adjusted for the rain. Note: Learn more about how long you should leave your sprinklers on.
What Happens if Your Wi-Fi Goes Down?
If your wi-fi signal does go down, which mine frequently does, the controller will continue to water as programmed so don’t worry. You won’t need to hand water because “someone” crashed your router again trying to connect too many devices.
The Rachio App
Navigation through the app is simple and intuitive. You can see all the stats for your controller like your watering schedule, settings for each zone, water usage and even the current weather all on your home screen. All of the settings can be adjusted right from this screen (well, except for the weather. Somebody should make an app that does that too) so making any changes to your system is very easy.
There is also a screen to show the watering history of your controller. Under the history screen you will also find updates that have happened for your watering schedule as well as your device.
Next is the help screen. If you have questions, it has answers. Just click on the section you want or you can even do a search.
The last screen is where you will find a summary of the water saved by not only you but there are also stats on the Rachio community as a whole. This is the screen that will open your eyes to how much water we actually use on our landscaping and how much we can save by not watering when we don’t need to.
The setup was very easy. It took about 40 minutes to get both controllers installed and programmed.
Rachio plays nice with Nest, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, Wink, Google Assistant, and more.
The app design is beautiful and simple to use. You can find all the settings with ease. I really like the help and search.
Rachio comes with a limited two year warranty.
Shelling out $250 for a controller seems like a lot at first but when you consider the water and money you save – it’s a great investment.
Picking a Smart Hub
As I continue my smart home journey, I have to pick a smart hub such as Amazon Alexa. Fortunately, Rachio works with most but Apple’s HomeKit is not on the list yet.
Is Rachio Worth It?
The simple answer – yes. Just the fact that it’ll help you conserve water makes it a worthwhile investment. Depending on your watering needs, it’ll help you save more than a buck or two.
If more conscientious people take steps to curb the amount of water that is wasted, we can make a huge difference in the long run. One skipped watering at a time.